The Pallilog

Amid more cancellations, there is hope for baseball

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So, the general target for this column is 800 words in length. 788 words to go! And so begins the month of May. 777 words to go!

Two of the great events of the baseball summer were inevitably canceled this week. The National Baseball Hall of Fame's July induction ceremony for the class of 2020 will be rolled into the Class of 2021. Much worse, the Little League World Series scheduled for August, wiped out. Given the times, any ray of optimism on a number of fronts is a good thing so long as it's not laughably pie in the sky optimistic. There was some glimmer this week about the baseball season beginning by the end of June. USA Today's outstanding baseball writer/reporter Bob Nightengale broke the story that the emerging possibility would have a start date no later than July 2, with the 30 MLB teams broken into three 10 team divisions with all clubs using their home ballparks. The Astros would play in the West with the Rangers, Dodgers, Angels, Giants, Athletics, Padres, Mariners, Diamondbacks, and Rockies. Those would be the only nine opponents the Astros would face in a regular season that would run 100+ games from start to a late October finish ahead of whatever postseason plan including neutral sites was settled upon for November and perhaps even early December. Sign us up!

Justin Verlander said Thursday he's recovering very well from his dual injuries (groin surgery and lat). Reminder that while they're absolutely lousy circumstances under which to glean a silver lining, a delayed start to the season means the Astros will have Verlander ready to go when (I refuse to consider if) it gets here. An on time start, and Verlander probably misses the first two months plus.

If you missed it early this week, the Astros were ousted in the quarterfinals of MLB.com's all-time franchise best simulation tournament. The Yankees beat the Astros in seven games. The Astros blew Game 7 after holding a 6-1 lead in the sixth inning. Billy Wagner gave up a tying homer to Mickey Mantle in the bottom of the ninth, then in the 12th Yogi Berra took Brad Lidge deep to win the series. I just typed a paragraph with details of a computer-played baseball game. I now pause to sob quietly for a few seconds.

A Big Deal 

Congrats to agent-less 25 year old Texans' left tackle Laremy Tunsil for smoking Bill O'Brien in their contract negotiations. Three years 66 million dollars is absurd. O'Brien continues to rack up "you have to be kidding me" GM decisions. Tunsil is a very good player. He is not the second coming of Anthony Munoz. For Tunsil to get four million more per year than the prior richest offensive tackle deal? Another way of framing Tunsil's 22 mil per season: that's a million dollars for each penalty he committed last season, plus a two million dollar bonus.

As much as one can reasonably judge a draft at the time of that draft, Bill O'Brien did fine with the Texans' top two choices. The loss of D.J. Reader left a big hole in the defensive line interior. Second round pick Ross Blacklock out of Elkins High School and TCU just needs to validate his selection. It's also not inconceivable that J.J. Watt gets cut after the 2020 season and Blacklock kicks out to defensive end. And before anyone goes screaming "Heretic!" at the suggestion of Watt being on the spot this year, he's missed at least half the regular season three of the last four seasons and is 31 years old. Watt's 15 and a half million dollar salary for the coming season is safe, but another major injury before he turns 32 while scheduled to make 17 and a half million in 2021?

Third round choice linebacker Jonathan Greenard gets mixed reviews, but the Texans needed another edge rusher possibility and I'm good with taking a guy named first team All-Southeastern Conference.

The Dallas Cowboys don't retire numbers, so their issuing number 88 to first round pick CeeDee Lamb is noteworthy. The wide receiver out of Oklahoma takes his spot in a Cowboys' number 88 lineage that includes Drew Pearson, Michael Irvin, and Dez Bryant. The Cowboys may now have three different receivers (Lamb, Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup) who a majority of NFL teams might take over any Texans' receiver. It's not that the Texans' corps stinks.

Buzzer Beaters

1. NBC is airing a mythical Kentucky Derby Saturday with the field comprised of the 13 Triple Crown winners. Secretariat obviously should win. Citation to place. Or Lucky Dan. Kudos if you get the reference. Affirmed to show. 2. Mint julep may be the most disgusting cocktail I've ever sipped. 3. Best "May" athletes: Bronze-Lee May Silver-Don Maynard Gold-Willie Mays

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Houston loses first game to Oakland

A's end losing streak against Astros with late homers

Lance McCullers Jr. went five innings of one-run ball Friday night. Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

After maintaining their stronghold against the A's in Thursday's home opener, the Astros had the chance to lock up the three-game series victory against Oakland with a win on Friday night. On the mound, Lance McCullers Jr. hoped to improve upon his first start against this same team, a five-inning one-run outing.

Instead, he would have the same outcome, once again lasting five innings while allowing one run, before a big tie-breaking home run late in the game would push Oakland out of their losing skid against the Astros.

Final Score: A's 6, Astros 2

Astros' Record: 6-2, tied for first in AL West

Winning Pitcher: Yusmeiro Petit (2-0)

Losing Pitcher: Bryan Abreu (1-1)

McCullers Jr. makes it through five

McCullers Jr. looked sharp through the first three innings, allowing just two baserunners, one on a second-inning single, then a walk in the third. Oakland did better against him the second time through their order in the fourth, with Jed Lowrie leading the inning off with a solo home run to put Oakland in front 1-0.

They went on to load the bases with one out on an error and two walks, but McCullers would strand them all. He returned for the fifth, a much cleaner inning where a caught stealing by Martin Maldonado would help him face just three batters. His final line: 5.0 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 6 K, 88 P.

Oakland gets homer-happy to even the series

McCullers Jr. would leave the game without being eligible for the winning or losing decision, as an RBI-groundout by Kyle Tucker in the fourth would have it tied 1-1. Bryan Abreu was the first out of Houston's bullpen, and he would attempt to eat up multiple innings. He had perfect innings in the sixth and seventh, retiring six A's in order to maintain the stalemate.

Abreu remained in the game in the top of the eighth, allowing a single before getting a strikeout, ending his run as Dusty Baker would bring in left-handed Blake Taylor. Taylor would give up a single against his first batter, then a loud go-ahead three-run home run to Matt Olson to push the A's back in front 4-1. They'd add two more insurance runs off of Joe Smith in the top of the ninth, getting a two-run home run by Mark Canha to extend the lead to 6-1.

Oakland's bullpen would hold on to the newly created lead, allowing just one run on a sac fly by Jose Altuve in the bottom of the ninth, finally ending their losing streak against Houston and setting up the rubber game on Saturday to be for the series victory.

Up Next: This series's finale will be a Saturday afternoon start, with first pitch scheduled for 3:05 PM. For the Astros, Jose Urquidy (0-0, 4.15 ERA) will look to get a win on the board, while Oakland will hand the ball to Frankie Montas (0-1, 23.63 ERA).

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